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Tuition assistance funds gone; outlook unclear

Dec. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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There is a reason that Marines seeking tuition assistance at their base education center are being deferred.

The money for the first quarter is gone.

In a story published Nov. 22, Marine Corps Times painted a rather rosy picture of the availability of tuition assistance funds [“Tuition assistance is healthy ... for now”], reporting that the Corps planned to spend $44 million on the educational assistance program in fiscal 2014, and that only one-third of the $11 million budgeted for the quarter had been spent. But the report was based on incomplete or erroneous information from the service.

Rather than having $11 million to spend on tuition aid in October, November and December, the Corps actually had only $3.5 million, and that money went quickly — distributed among installations based on historical use over the past three fiscal years. It is unclear how much money will be available in the second quarter, but it may be the same amount.

Eligible Marines who want a piece of that pie should apply for it now.

“Unfortunately, the confusion over funding available is due to the incomplete information provided to the reporter by an office within M&RA,” said Maj. Shawn Haney, a Manpower & Reserve Affairs spokeswoman.

Although the president’s spending plan for 2014 included $44 million for the Marine Corps tuition assistance program, Congress — which often ignores the president’s proposal anyway — has not passed a budget. On Oct. 16, after more than a two-week government shutdown, the House and Senate agreed to pass a continuing resolution that funds the government through Jan. 15.

With so much uncertainty around the budget, the Marine Corps has been forced to hedge its bets.

“[G]iven the uncertainty of both the Continuing Resolution and unknown outcomes of the Budget Control Act discussions regarding the full year funding levels, the Marine Corps has taken measures to protect near term readiness, which results in reduced funding for some programs, including TA. Until these issues are resolved, it is premature to determine full funding levels for TA for the remainder of the fiscal year,” wrote Andrew Hamilton, a spokesman in the Marine and Family Programs Division, in response to queries.

“What should have been included in the initial response [to Marine Corps Times] is the information that is most important to Marines, that additional money will not be available until the second quarter, and they should consult their Educational Service Officer for information that can help them know their options and make decisions,” Haney said.

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